They’re young. They shine brightly. And their talents are already lighting up the Edmonton theatre scene. 12thnight talked to six starry and sought-after up-and-comers, artists whose work, on- and backstage, will have a big impact on theatre here when the doors are open again, and we can once more share the live experience.
Meet actor Bella King. And look for the others in this continuing 12thnight.ca New Faces series. First up was actor Helen Belay; then designer Alison Yanota, stage manager Isabel (Izzy) Bergquist, and actor Chris Pereira.
By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
BELLA KING, actor
If you saw Plain Jane’s award-winning production of the landmark musical Fun Home (and if you didn’t you really should have), you’ll smile to think of the knockout moment when Bella King delivers the showstopper Changing My Major.
In the scant four minutes of a song, the college girl played by King shared a whole story of self-discovery and wonder, about the world and about herself: “I’m changing my major to Joan….”
One of our discoveries at that moment of unexpected buoyancy was a startling new triple-threat. King, who graduated from MacEwan University’s theatre department two years ago, has a voice with dramatic expressive angles to it, and a natural and charismatic honesty and warmth in creating a character — all on display in Dave Horak’s production of Fun Home.
“It wasn’t a hard sing,” she says of the character, the middle of Fun Home’s three Alisons, who discovers she’s gay about the same time she discovers the same thing about her late father. “So much heightened emotion and coping with trauma — that was the hard part….” More than a few audience members stayed behind, in tears, after the show, “moved, think, by Alison’s relationship with her father, and her relationship with her queerness — and the discovery that parents are people who had lives before us. A weird thing to think about; the choice to break out of that and not live the same life as they did.”
King, now 23, was your classic musical theatre kid. “I watched all the old Disney movies, the original Annie….” When the nine-year-old King saw Phantom of the Opera, “it just blew my mind! I couldn’t believe a chandelier could fall on a stage; it was just the craziest thing I’d ever seen. My mom bought me the big fancy program; I brought it to school to show all my friends.” She still has this precious showbiz artifact, “wrinkled, completely worn in.”
Considering the inevitability at play, King had a tough entry point into theatre.“From eight to 16 I had really really bad stage fright,” she says of the residue from a humiliating school incident. Auditioning was a nightmare prospect. King gritted her teeth: “I remember so clearly I knew I had to do it…. It’s one of the times in my life when the need overcame the fear.”
At MacEwan, King tended to get cast as “the innocent, the inexperienced teenager,” as she laughs. In Sister Act, the musical that opened MacEwan’s spanky new Triffo Theatre — “a crazy whirlwind, in a ‘down to the wire but it worked’ kind of way — she was the young nun postulant who delivers the show’s most wistful what-am-I-missing? song, The Life I Never Led.
Even in [title of show], the self-referential Off-Broadway musical about a musical that was King’s first production after graduating, “I played the character who hadn’t done theatre before….” It was my first Fringe experience, and it was perfect! Doing what you love, and doing it will all of your friends…. I love the Fringe!” declares King.
And for innocence, Cinderella might be the ultimate wide-eyed ingenue. In Jocelyn Ahlf’s sassy panto version of the fairy tale, which played the Capitol Theatre at Fort Edmonton this past Christmas, King was “the inexperienced teenager,” she laughs. “Very smart and confident, but not in a confrontational way. She was very stuck…”
The panto experience of playing to an audience that doesn’t have to shut up and be well-behaved comes attached to a certain kind of terror, you’d think, especially for a stage fright survivor. “It was both enjoyable and terrifying!” King laughs, remembering her character, decked out as Cinderella in “giant white winter boots, leggings, plaid shirt, puffy white vest.” Kids would try to crawl up onstage; some annotated; some gave Cinderella helpful advice: “wake up! he’s Prince Charming!”
Musicals are a gravitational force field for King. “I just love the storytelling that happens through music; I love singing with a big band behind you, pushing you. Very powerful.” She’s been in two Fringe musicals with Straight Edge Theatre. One was new (and working on something new has its own kind of thrill she says): Imaginary Friend, an original by Daniel Belland (“very silly, very raunchy, an invisible friend who’s an outsized demon that wreaks havoc among a whole family….So much fun!”). One was a contemporary classic, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, which tells its story of a relationship in reverse chronology, with the two characters on separate tracks.
King has plans, some on hold for the summer of course (“I’m being hopeful but realistic”), and some longer term. A dream musical? “I’d love to do Vanities,” she says without hesitation. “It’s based on a play, about the friendship between three girls and how it changes through high school, college, post-college after graduation…. Three women, pop-rock, a perfect Fringe show.”
There’s nothing like a pandemic to reinforce the notion that all plans are contingent, hypothetical, ephemeral as air. “Anything can happen! You can have plans, and your plans can not happen,” says King, with a sadder-but-wiser shrug in her voice. But there’s this: “I can’t even imagine what the first show back (when theatre doors open) will be like.… People will be so excited, so happy to be back together!”